Are you an employer or employee in Georgia?
If so, you’ll be interested in a recent change in the law that affects Georgia employee benefit plans. This ruling extends the Mental Health Parity Act, also know as MHPA, through the end of 2007. Originally, the MHPA bill, which was signed into law in 1996, was supposed to end on September 30, 2001. Instead of expiring, this bill has been extended 5 times over the years.
MHPA says that under group health insurance coverage, mental health coverage cannot have a lower payment limit than that one used for medical treatments and surgery. The reason this law is important is that in the past, an insurance company might set a limit for mental health treatments of $15,000 while setting the surgery benefit limit at $250,000.
The Mental Health Parity Act requires group health insurance plans that cover mental health treatments not place a lower payment limit for this coverage than for other coverages, such as surgery. For instance, in the past group health insurance plans could set lifetime surgery benefit maximum of $250,000 but place the mental health treatment benefit lifetime maximum at $15,000. MHPA makes this kind of disparity illegal. Now, if $250,000 is the lifetime benefit maximum for surgery and other treatments, then this same amount has to be the lifetime benefit maximum for mental health treatments.
MHPA also applies to annual benefit limits. The annual benefit maximum established by the group health insurance plan for surgery and other medical treatments must be the same amount allocated for mental health treatments. These treatments can include visits to counselors such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists. Other mental health treatments included are mental hospital stays for conditions such as schizophrenia and depression. In addition, covered treatments also may include stays in rehab centers to treat drug and alcohol dependency.
The mental health treatments covered by the heath insurance plan can include stays in a drug or alcohol rehab and stays in mental hospitals for illness such as schizophrenia or depression. Visits to psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists are also included.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is sure to become a hot topic of conversation in Georgia in the next few years. Recent projections indicate Georgia is in the beginning stage of a baby boom that will last until at least 2010, with 120,000 expected births in the Atlanta area alone. Many working mothers and fathers are likely to take advantage of the time off from the job the federal leave act allows.
The Georgia FMLA provides job security for eligible employees who need to take leave from work to tend to medical situations within their families. The birth or adoption of a baby is an event covered under this act. Also covered is time off to adjust to new family dynamics when a foster child is placed in the home.
In order to seek job protection under the Georgia FMLA, workers must be employed by a company covered under the act. Private businesses with 50 or more employees for 20 or more calendar workweeks are covered. These covered employees must be assigned to work within 75 miles of the jobsite.
All employees of public agencies are covered regardless of staff size. Elementary and secondary school teachers in both private and public schools are covered, too, regardless of the number of employees.
To be qualified as eligible for leave, a worker must be employed for 12 months prior to beginning the leave. During this 12-month period, the worker must work a minimum of 1,250 hours, or just over 24 hours per week. For those workers with intermittent, occasional, or other “casual” work arrangements, the work does not need to be done in consecutive weeks but the 1,250 hours must have been worked in any combination of the 52 weeks prior to taking leave.
All employees considering using the FMLA should make arrangements with their employer before leave commences if humanly possible. They should make every effort to meet their employers’ requirements for continued contact throughout leave time.
The Georgia Vacation Notice protects an employer from false claims of unemployment, and also lets them take absenteeism and excessive time off into account when determining unemployment benefits.
I read that under Georgia law, unemployment insurance is not payable when an employee is on:
- leave of absence at their own request
- paid vacation
- unpaid vacation, up to two weeks in a calendar year if provided by employment contract, or
- by established employer custom, practice or policy
Unemployment insurance provides limited replacement wages to workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
Before the vacation notice was put into effect, I know that an employee could be ineligible for unemployment benefits if they were let go for excessive absences in violation of the employer’s attendance policy. The employer merely had to have advised the employee that excessive absenteeism was grounds for termination. If the employee unjustifiably failed to notify the employer, the employee would be ineligible for benefits (even if the absences were due to illness).
The law was changed in December 2005 so that now, when the absence leading to a discharge is illness-related, an employer seeking to disqualify the offending employee from receiving unemployment benefits may be required to show that it warned the employee, in writing and in advance of any absences, that unemployment benefits may be denied because of a violation of the employer’s attendance policy.
This warning (in writing and in advance) is accomplished by posting the Vacation Notice poster in an employer’s place of business. The Georgia Complete Labor Law poster is available to reflect the vacation notification. For more information, contact the Georgia Department of Labor.